Keep calm and cherry on

Categories: Expert guidance

Taking more than one bite of the cherry as the season reaches its height, our regular vegetarian specialist, chef and author Celia Brooks, suggests a number of reasons why juice stained fingers are a good look

Words: Celia Brooks

Hurrah, it’s British cherry time! Cherries have thrived here since the Romans introduced them, but as a crop, they have seen a sad demise in recent years. Cheaper, more abundant imports from Europe and the USA have eclipsed our homegrown fruits.

Happily, they are making a bit of a comeback: dwarf rootstocks in polytunnels have replaced less manageable giant trees, making the fruit less vulnerable to the elements and easier to harvest.

Cherries from abroad are picked unripe to sustain their long journey to market, but British cherries, grown mainly in southern England, are picked at the height of flavour, brimming with natural sugar, and buxom with that sun-ripened juice that bursts out between the teeth; and they are all over Borough Market fruit stalls right now, for just a few short weeks.

When you buy them they’re already fully ripe, so they won’t last long. Cherries are one of the few fruits I will munch straight out of the bag after purchasing, without washing or picking through. Once I’ve had one, I simply cannot stop. If I’m restrained enough to get them home, I will rinse gently and chill, then polish off from a bowl later that day—they are especially divine when cold.

If I happen to tire of gorging on them in their lone stardom, there is a plethora of possibilities for using them creatively in the kitchen.

Cherries and chocolate
The black forest gateau may be considered a retro dessert, but there is no doubt that cherries, chocolate and cream are an eternally winning triumvirate. Top chocolate mousse with fresh cherries and whipped cream, or dip cold cherries on the stem in melted dark chocolate and chill on baking parchment for a wicked after-dinner mouthful.

Cherries and nuts
Frangipane, a sweet almond paste, works beautifully with fresh cherries in a tart—a cherry bakewell with knobs on. Cherry strudel is made by combining fresh cherries with almonds, hazelnuts, or pine nuts, or all three, engulfed in sugar, butter and breadcrumbs and wrapped in pastry—to die for.

Cherries and booze
Slit some cherries and macerate them in rum, brandy or vodka for a few weeks in a dark place, then serve the chilled liqueur neat over ice, or make a long cocktail with sparkling spring water and fresh mint. Eat the boozy cherries with chocolate ice cream or crème fraiche and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Cherries and cheese
Most fruits work well with cheese, and sweet and tangy cherries are no exception. Cherry cheesecake is a no-brainer. For something more on the savoury side, cherries with fresh, mild goat’s cheese is remarkable. Cherries and chunks of Stilton are surprisingly happy partners in a salad.

Cherries and meat
Traditional English port-spiked cherry sauce can be served with ham, pork chops or game birds. A French version is creamy and buttery and served with sweetbreads and brains. Nigel Slater cooks cherries with vinegar and spices for a short time and serves them “pickled” with mackerel. Martha Stewart makes them into a jalapeno-spiked salsa to serve with tilapia.